Remembering Erikson

By Herman, Ellen | Tikkun, March/April 2000 | Go to article overview

Remembering Erikson

Herman, Ellen, Tikkun

Remembering Erikson

Ellen Herman

Ellen Herman teaches history at the University of Oregon. She is the author of The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts.

Identity's Architect: A Biography of Erik H. Erikson, by Lawrence J. Friedman. Scribner, 1999.

Americans may pride themselves on a history of diligent self-invention, but we no longer seem to know who we are, let alone how to make ourselves up from scratch. Since the 1960s, when the civil rights revolution recast the terms of being and belonging, identity has been an American obsession. Controversies over affirmative action, child adoption, electoral representation, school curricula, and intermarriage absorb our time and attention. We wonder if identity is passed down to us through communities of descent, wired into us by our genes, or brought upon us by acts of free will. What makes an American, for example? Must national identity trump other loyalties that make us who we are: race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, family, philosophy of life?

Is identity a style of belonging at once reassuring and rigid, as in having Jewish blood or Indian blood or Black blood? Periodic calls to revise census categories illustrate that Americans think of themselves not (or not only) in terms of tribal ascription but in terms of behavior and experience that are chosen, combined, and recombined. Identity is racial and biracial, gendered and transgendered, cultural and multicultural. As a way to categorize personhood, identity may be fixed or fickle. In either case, a post-identity moment has not yet arrived. From identity crisis to identity politics, identity matters.

Erik Erikson came closer than anyone to being the individual author of the identity concept. A prize-winning writer, gifted clinician, and originator of a famous eight-stage model of human development, Erikson lived a long, productive, and mostly happy life from 1902 to 1994. A Freudian who transmitted psychoanalytic ideas to popular and academic audiences at the zenith of their American vogue, Erikson anticipated the analytic drift toward ego psychology and its preoccupation with how human organisms become social selves. His reverence for maternalism made him a cultural feminist before that style came back into fashion in the 1970s; his commitment to gender difference was denounced by radicals interested more in obliterating than sacrilizing feminine identity.

Erikson's sixty-four-year marriage is an object lesson in the dependence of brilliant men on the voluntary subordination of brilliant women. Joan Erikson closely supervised her husband's career, demonstrating a creative flair that only occasionally gained an independent outlet. She edited everything he wrote, decided what he would wear and eat (even in restaurants), selected his friends. While he was tending to other people's children, she raised his.

Identity's Architect is engrossing, full of telling details about Erikson's marriage and family, his accomplishments, and the settings that nurtured his ideas. Lawrence Friedman devotes considerable psychobiographical skill to interpreting this fascinating life. Unsurprisingly, he is deeply indebted to his subject's core insight: that psychology and society are inseparable. Erikson's studies of Hitler, Luther, and Ghandi were sacred texts for pioneering psychohistorians, who took seriously Erikson's twin claims that psychoanalysis was a historical method and that history was a gigantic bundle of individual case histories. So it goes in this book. Friedman's treatment of Erikson is so Eriksonian that readers may be as struck by the identification between biographer and subject as they are by the chronicle of Erikson's lifelong search for an identity of his own.

Friedman documents moments of real identity crisis in Erikson's life, especially in relation to his biological father, whose identity he never knew, and his son Neil, born with Down's syndrome and institutionalized until his death as a young adult, another ghost in the Erikson family. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Remembering Erikson


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.